By Jane Highley
For the last five years or so, I have noticed a growing interest in personality typing systems and frameworks. Some have been around for centuries, while others have been developed within the last decade. It’s not surprising that I began to hear and read more about these personality tests and quizzes when I went back to work full-time in 2014 when my youngest of four was barely two years old.
Perhaps I had forgotten who I was as a high school teacher. I remember feeling so lost. I’ve been in several different classrooms and buildings and have interacted with dozens of co-workers. The buzz about personality-type tests has been high. In fact, based on the all the new books, articles, research, podcasts, and extensive coaching services, personality types and its variants might be reaching a fever-pitch level of mainstream enthusiasm and acceptance, especially within the church.
While I do not think that personality types and the gospel are mutually exclusive, I also don’t know if the former can fit comfortably with the latter in a way makes biblical sense. Don’t get me wrong—I have no agenda to support or discredit any one mechanism that claims to help understand myself and the ways I interact with others. But there is definitely room for questions that we should ask when considering the merits of these personality typing systems. What are some these systems? Here’s a short list of what I have heard about:
- The Four Temperaments (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic)
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (extroversion/introversion, intuition/sensing, feeling/thinking, perception/judging)
- Love Languages (acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, physical touch)
- Four Tendencies (upholder, obliger, questioner, rebel)
- Nine Enneagram Types (reformer, helper, achiever, romantic, investigator, loyalist, enthusiast, challenger, peacemaker)
- Strength Finder (there are 34 strengths divided into four domains—executing, influencing, relationship building, strategic thinking)
As any good skeptic would do, I took many tests and quizzes to figure out who I am, what my inherent motivations are, how I project and protect myself, and what I look like when I am healthy and confident and when I am stressed and insecure. The obvious problem with any of these systems is that there is a lot of room for misinformation which could easily lead to misuse and (unintentional) abuse. As much as there are benefits to knowing myself at a granular level, there is an inherent fallacy that such knowledge will make all my problems vanish and that I will become the most productive and happiest version of myself by knowing myself. If life were really that easy!
My temptation is to commit to learning about a system, to put into action all the recommendations on how to bring out my best self, and then I can expect guaranteed improvement and innovation. Goal + effort = desired outcome, right?
Unfortunately, such a view makes God irrelevant and ignores my sin and brokenness. What about the need for grace? And the reason for the cross? And the promise of redemption? I’m sure it’s possible for someone can justify a typing system with the gospel. But I also know that the Bible has much to say about who I am, and if I really want to know more about myself, I should really ask the Creator.